In the winter the wind blowing in off the sea cuts like a knife. People huddle and hurry, their heads buried in collars and scarves and their hands insulated in pockets or gloves. Neon sign wink into the shopping streets, windows are invitingly lit and mannequins stare stiffly at passing pedestrians.
Molly sits hunched in the delivery entrance of a terrace of shops. She is covered by her sleeping bag. Her dog snuggles against her and they share body heat. In front of her is her upturned cap. In the main, people ignore her, although occasionally passers by throw some coins into her hat. Opposite to where she sits a café is filling with evening trade. Bursts of music escape from the building each time someone enters or exits. Condensation runs down the inside of the windows in small rivulets scarring the soft focus heat mist. Fairy lights illuminate the faces of the occupants.
A man in a suit walks along the street. He wears black leather gloves and a heavy overcoat. He stops in front of Molly and holds out a ten pound note. She reaches out with her hand. ‘Afterwards,’ he says. She nods and rises, taking care to cover the dog with her sleeping bag. She swings open the delivery entrance gate and the man follows her into a small concrete yard surrounded by buildings.
‘Yes, here will do,’ he replies after briefly scanning the enclosed horizon.
He unzips his trousers without removing his gloves. He is already hard. Molly makes to touch him with her hand. ‘No, your mouth,’ he says curtly. She kneels down. It’s over in less than two minutes. He hands her the ten pound note. ‘You first,’ he indicates the exit. He follows five minutes later, by which time Molly has already collected together her things and is on her way to the nearest off-licence.
St Giles is, in the main, run by volunteers. The hostel occupies the entire ground floor of what used to be a church. There are separate male and female dormitories, a dining room with a kitchen connected via a hatch and a recreation area containing sagging sofas and a snow bound TV.
After dinner most of the residents retire to the recreation area and recreate their neuroses. Despite the ‘no alcohol, no drugs’ policy of St Giles, many of the homeless who use the service are drunk or drugged when they arrive. As their narcotic of choice wears off as the night wears on, fights are inevitable.
Bill isn’t getting on with Danny. ‘You owe me twenty quid.’
‘No I don’t, I gave you it back out of my giro last Friday.’
‘You lying bastard, you must think I’m thick.’
‘THINK you’re thick?’ says Danny sarcastically.
Tina hates Carol. ‘Thieving bitch.’
‘I told you it wasn’t me.’
‘Well who the fuck else was it?’
‘I’m not a grass …’
Paul keeps himself to himself, his arms wrapped tightly around his knees, he hums softly. The TV blares a crackly soap opera episode.
Molly’s dog precedes her entrance. ‘Anyone got any snout?’ she asks hopefully. She walks over to Dave who is reading a crumpled paper. ‘Dave? I’ll give you a snifter,’ she opens her jacket just far enough so that he can see the top of a bottle of cheap vodka.
‘Alright darling,’ he says while pulling a tatty pouch from his back pocket, ‘Shall I roll it for you?’ Molly smiles. Bill and Danny stop squabbling long enough to exchange a wink and a nudge.
Five minutes later Molly leaves the recreation room with Dave hot on her heels. At the far end of each dormitory are the washrooms, but at this time of night some of the residents are laying out their beds and ordering their meagre possessions. Ethel, a bag lady of character, is emptying the contents of all of her bags onto the floor. A jumble of assorted bric-a-brac is piled at her feet. She mutters happily to herself as she sorts through it, filing each item away safely. Molly shakes her head. It makes no sense.
‘This way,’ she hisses. The volunteers are now clearing the dining room and wandering about in the kitchen, attempting to encourage the residents to stick to the washing up rota. No-one is on reception. If you’re not here for your dinner then you’re not here for your bed – the director says it makes sense ‘Because if they eat it’ll soak up the booze, calm them down and they sleep better on a full belly’.
There are cloakrooms just at the entrance. Molly slips into the womens with Dave close behind her. There’s only one cubicle, so the way in can be locked securely. She takes the bottle from her pocket and passes it to him. He takes a healthy slug. ‘Thanks Molly.’
‘Give us another fag then,’ she says by way of reply.
‘Did you know Hitler had a daughter?’
‘No, I didn’t know that Molly.’
‘Yeah, not many people do.’
‘What happened to her?’
‘Dunno, maybe she died or grew up to be someone else.’ Molly offers Dave the bottle again, only a small amount of vodka remains. ‘He used to fuck her, well, finger fuck her.’
‘Did he?’ says Dave crunching his face up.
‘He would take all his clothes off, apart from his pants, and get her to squat on his face, and then he’d like examine her, and then he’d get her to piss on him.’
‘Why did he do that?’
‘Dunno, cos he was a sick fuck mebbee,’ Molly laughs.
Dave runs his palm along the cold, white surface of the sink. ‘Would you like someone to do that to you Dave?’
‘Not really my thing Molly.’
‘But how would you know whether or not it was your thing until you tried it?’ Dave squints.
‘Some things you just kinda know I suppose.’
The hotel room is basic. A small double bed is flanked by two cheap, chipped bedside tables. The brown candlewick bedspread is smooth and straight but the weave is worn. There is a table supporting a dull tray which has a kettle, two cups, tea, coffee and sugar on it.
The man in the suit sits on the bed and unlaces his shiny black shoes. He places them side by side and removes his socks. Molly looks in the mirror of the dressing table. She strokes her hair and bites her lip.
Leading off the bedroom is a small bathroom with an avocado suite. The shower curtain has a slight mould stain at the base. There is a small bar of highly scented, pink complementary soap.
Molly takes off her coat and hangs is over the back of the chair in front of the dressing table. The man in the suit removes his jacket and finds a place for it in the wardrobe. The metal hangers clang together as the scoops them along the rail. He folds his trousers and places them on a chair. He does not like the thin crease a metal hanger will leave at the knee joint.
‘I’m just going for a shower,’ Molly says.
‘I don’t want you to,’ he replies.
‘But I’m dirty.’
‘That’s part of the attraction.’
He gets into bed. The covers are crumpled to his waist as he sits and smokes. Molly turns away from him and begins to undress. She is wearing many layers and as she strips these she becomes smaller and smaller, until eventually she stands naked, skinny and mottled. She manages a rather forced smile as she slips into bed beside him.
‘I want you to suck my cock,’ he says stubbing out his cigarette and reclining. Molly disappears under the bedclothes, burrowing like a mole. He moves the covers back so that he can see what’s going on. ‘Touch my balls.’ She does as is requested, feeling the lumpy hair follicles under her finger tips. He places his hand on the top of her head and begins to thrust his hips until she gags on him.
‘Get on top of me.’ She obliges, kneeling slightly. He looks down at her swinging breasts, taking one nipple between his thumb and forefinger and squeezing. She makes no noise. He pinches tighter. Still no noise. He puts his mouth to her nipple and gives a cursory lick before he bites down hard. She catches her breath and a small sound of pain escapes from her lips.
Half an hour later he pays Molly thirty pounds. She says ‘Thank you’. He leaves first. She goes to the bathroom.
The soap is hardly enough, it doesn’t lather properly so she drags the bar over her body, feeling its slippery squareness against her bones. There is no shampoo, so she pushes the scant bubbles into her hair. There is no moisturiser, so she leaves the bathroom with skin as dry as paper. She dresses, makes sure the money is in her secret pocket, and walks downstairs. The receptionist raises her eyebrows. ‘Fuck you,’ says Molly under her breath.
Molly’s attendance at the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are a condition of her residence at St Giles’. ‘My name’s Molly and I’m an alcoholic – how anonymous is that?’ she thinks.
Jeanette is 34. She has a little boy called Alex. She works as a legal secretary. She gets depressed sometimes, particularly since her mother died. Jeanette’s husband Colin works night shifts and she always goes to bed alone. She wipes an escaping tear away from her dull eye. She crumples and re-crumples a paper tissue in her hands until it rips. She looks behind her before she sits down, as it to make sure someone hasn’t pulled her chair away.
‘Hi, er, my name’s Pete,’ Pete holds his hand up in a stagnant waving gesture and nine faces smile back at him, ‘And I’m an alcoholic’. Lynda, the group leader, nods in encouragement. ‘I’ve not really had a very good week,’ Pete continues, ‘I got my divorce papers through on Wednesday,’ slight pause ‘And that sort of pushed me over the edge’. There is a fidgeting silence. ‘I went to the pub with Gary and got completely hammered.’ Lynda’s eyebrows twitch.
‘And how do you feel about that Pete?’ she asks.
‘Well, I wish I hadn’t done it.’
‘Because now I’m back at square one.’
‘Not entirely Pete …’ Pete sighs miserably as Lynda delivers some falsetto advice. Molly stares at the floor.
‘Molly … MOLLY!’ Lynda is looking questioningly at her.
‘My name’s Molly and I’m an alcoholic. I last had a drink about two hours ago.’ Pamela, a 40 year old lush with peroxide blonde hair, sniffs disapprovingly. Dennis, who always wears acrylic alpine jumpers no matter what the weather, curls his lips and reveals his rather unpleasant crooked teeth. Marjorie, who buys all her clothes from Marks and Spencer and who, therefore, thinks she’s posh, snorts dismissively …
‘Molly, have you tried any of the strategies from the 12 step approach we talked about last week?’ Lynda says. Molly shakes her head. ‘Have you thought about them at all?’ Molly shakes her head. ‘Molly, we can’t help you unless you’re willing to help yourself.’
Marjorie tuts. ‘Shut up you!’ Molly spits out.
‘Molly, there’s no need for that, I think Marjorie was just expressing how disappointed …’
‘Now Molly we’ve talked about your colourful language before …’
‘But Miss efficiency knickers can just sit there clucking and tutting?’
‘Molly, we’re not your enemies.’
‘Yes you fucking are. You think I’m scum.’
‘How dare you,’ breaks in Marjorie.
‘Oh piss off you shrivelled up old slag.’
‘MOLLY,’ Lynda sounds positively shrill now and Marjorie is on her feet, ripping her coat from the back of her chair and thrusting her hands into the armholes. ‘If we could all just stay calm,’ Lynda bleats.
‘I will not be spoken to like that,’ Marjorie counters, ‘Not by such a filthy, little trollop’.
‘See,’ says Molly folding her arms across her chest.
‘Marjorie, please sit down,’ but Marjorie is in no mood to comply and she stamps out of the room.
‘That was unforgivable,’ says Lynda turning to face Molly, tapping her pen quickly and irritably against her clipboard.
‘So you can’t behave like this. This is a group meeting, we’re here to listen to each other and offer support where we can.’
‘You might be.’
‘No Molly, this is why we’re all here.’
Well, I’m only here cos I have to be.’
‘Don’t you want to get better?’
‘Better? Do you mean do I want to stop being an alcoholic? No, not really.’
‘Why is that?’ Lynda wheedles.
‘Cos unlike all the other sad fuckers here I drink for a reason.’ Pamela scrapes her chair across the floor as she rises. Lynda nods briefly at her as she exits the room.
‘We all have our reasons,’ Pete interjects. Molly laughs.
‘And what’s your reason Pete? One for the road became one too many until you couldn’t get it up anymore, so your missus ran of with the milkman, the postman, whoever?’
‘A car mechanic, he used to fix the van,’ says Pete turning to Lynda for some acknowledgement. She nods and smiles gently.
‘Alright mate,’ says Molly, ‘That’s pretty much the same as your first memory being your father raping you in the kitchen.’
‘Molly you don’t have the monopoly on pain,’ Lynda says.
‘Or your uncle being so desperate to join in the fun that he takes pictures …’
‘And then passes them round to like a million other sick fucks.’
‘And then there was the time my Dad …’
‘What? What Lynda, only a certain amount of truth allowed here or something? Only comfortable and normal truth? Only truth that’s nice and clean? That’s the trouble. You just don’t want to know do you? No-one ever wants to know, not the people at the hostel, not the men who pay so that they can fuck me, not boyfriends, not fucking anyone. It’s my dirty little secret isn’t it? Funny thing is, that’s what they told me, my Dad and Uncle John, ‘It’s our secret,’ they would say, ‘Don’t tell anyone, they won’t believe you, and even if they do, they won’t do anything’. Molly stares at the seven faces who look back at her. She is red in the cheeks and sweating, stains appear under her arms and a razor thin trickle runs down her back. ‘Tell you what, just forget it, you lot go right ahead and whine your acceptable moans,’ and with that Molly grabs her coat and storms out of the room.
Patrick tries to be nice, but there is not much he can say, a complaint has been received and, given Molly’s previous warnings about her conduct, he is in the unfortunate position of having to ban her from St Giles for a week.
‘Where the fuck am I going to sleep?’
He offers to make some calls, to see if he can place her at another hostel. He assures her that she has a bed for tonight.
His hands, he says, ‘Are tied’.
‘Fuck you,’ she screams as she slams out of the door ‘Fuck you and your fucking …’ He can’t hear the rest of what she says.
Molly pulls her collar up against the cold. Feeling in the pocket of her jeans she drags out a scruffy note, her last one. She walks swiftly towards the late night shop. She doesn’t choose her poison anymore, instead she just buys what’s cheapest and strongest, except for whisky, it reminds her of her father’s drunken breath.
Forty five minutes later and she’s back inside the hostel. The residents are halfway through their dinner, but Patrick turns a blind eye to Molly’s late arrival, anxious to ensure that no trouble breaks out. He can tell Molly has been drinking by her uneven stride. ‘Sometimes it’s like working at a zoo’, he thinks.
Molly siddles and some of the diners look in her direction. Dave pulls out the seat next to him and smiles. Molly clatters over to him. ‘The bastards,’ yes Dave has heard and no he doesn’t know what she’s going to do.
‘I’ll come with you though, just to make sure you’re not out there all on your own.’ Dave has beautiful blue eyes, so bright and clear despite the years of drinking and doing whatever else came to hand.
‘Would you?’ says Molly, looking at him quizzically, a slight frown creeping across her face.
‘Sure, why not? We could go some place completely new, like Scotland or something.’
‘Ooooo, I don’t know about that, it’ll be even colder up there this time of year and I don’t like the Scots, bunch of miserable bastards.’
‘But I thought your family were Scottish.’
‘They are.’ Molly laughs and Dave guffaws in his mild manner between shovelled mouthfuls of food. ‘Let’s talk about it later when we don’t have an audience though,’ she says, nodding towards Danny who appears to be all ears.
The recreation room is unusually busy tonight. The Christmas tree is up and some limp decorations sway from the ceiling. The glitter looks incongruous in amongst the grimy ashtrays and half finished cups of tea. The usual squabbles interrupt everyone’s viewing pleasure. Molly is sitting on Dave’s knee and they are sharing a smoke. Once every so often, when no-one is looking, he spots a tiny amount of hash onto the end of his ready rolled cigarette and sucks hard and fast on the filter. The room fills with a familiar smell. Some people turn around and notice Molly and Dave grinning and giggling.
Dave runs his hand up and down Molly’s back. She has an itch, ‘Just there, no left a bit, down a bit, more towards my spine. Why is it that itches move around your body?’
‘I dunno,’ he says smiling as she wriggles like an excitable cat.
‘Put your hand up my t-shirt.’ Dave does as he is told. Molly is warm and her skin soft against his rough palms. His hand lies flat against her back as they chat. After a few moments he creeps it over her ribs until his thumb is just underneath her breast. Molly stiffens against him but does not ask him to move. He begins to stroke the lazy curves of her body. She rests her head in his neck. He bends towards her until their cheeks are pressed together.
‘I love you Molly.’
‘I love you Molly’, said the fat man writhing on top of her. He’s a regular.
‘I love you Molly’, said the final sentence of Mike’s suicide note, but he didn’t manage it, just damaged his liver beyond all repair.
‘I love you Molly’, said her father, as he knelt, begging her forgiveness, or acceptance, or something.
‘You don’t know me Dave.’
‘I’d like to know you better.’
‘What you mean you want to fuck me?’ Molly has said this too loudly and now all eyes in the recreation room are on the couple. Dave laughs.
‘Subtlety isn’t your strong point is it?’
‘I mean it Dave, you have no idea, no fucking idea.’
‘I know enough, I want to know more.’ He moves his thumb an inch and it’s now resting just beneath her nipple. She turns her face until her mouth is just brushing his ear.
‘Later, 3.00am, sneak into the women’s dormitory, I’ll be in the washroom on the right’, and with that Molly rises quickly, kissing Dave on the forehead as she does so.
The other women give her a wide berth tonight. Ethel, as usual, is oblivious to everything except her own constant re-organising of plastic bags, but everyone else is well aware of the situation and can tell that Molly is not to be tangled with.
At 11.00pm Molly takes a shower. There are small sachets of shampoo and soap provided. She scrubs at her body with an errant flannel that must have been left behind by another resident. Showering takes some forward planning, towels have to be arranged via reception, but Molly wants to be clean, Dave loves her and she must be clean. Her scrubbed skin stings under the scalding hot water, red and raw. She washes her hair and smoothes its tangle over her shoulders. Looking in the mirror once she has emerged from the steamy stripping she inspects her face, her bloodshot eyes and greying lips, her cheeks that are threaded with thin veins. She brushes her teeth with her fingers and soap.
In bed Molly watches the big clock on the wall with the glow in the dark hands. At 2.30am she returns to the bathroom. She puts her last pound coin in the vending machine and gets a pack of tampons complete with applicators. On the work surface that the sink is sunk into she carefully removes one from its papery covering. She takes the tampon from the applicator and, using her blunted and rusting penknife, cuts it in half and discards the upper most portion before replacing the remainder back inside the cardboard tube and pulling the thin blue string back through. It feels secure. Next, she takes a small, empty bottle of vodka from her pocket and places it inside an envelope of tin foil she saved from today’s sandwiches. She has stolen a rolling pin from the kitchen and she hits the bundle hard. A dull thud fills the bathroom. She swings high and brings the rolling pin down again, hard, and again, even harder, and again and again and again and again. She peels back the tin foil and picks the larger blades of glass out from the shattered mess, wrapping them carefully in toilet paper before disposing of them in the ‘used sanitary products’ bin. She then lifts the foil and curves it until the splinters of glass are gathered in a channel in the middle. She opens the end of the tampon applicator and tips the glass into the cardboard tube.
Dave has set his alarm, although he really had no need to, he hasn’t slept. He eases himself out of bed. Danny, in the bunk next to him, is snoring like a dreaming dog, and further down in the dormitory Dave can hear the sounds of sleeping men, anaesthetised by drink and drugs and exhaustion. He is fully clothed but takes off his socks and tucks them into his tatty trainers before padding across the slightly sticky vinyl flooring.
Molly is waiting for him behind the doors to the women’s dormitory. She hears his approach and opens the door just a crack. Dave kisses her hair as he enters. She takes his hand and leads him past the sleeping women towards the washroom. He makes a move as if to turn on the light but Molly stills his hand, ‘No, no’. He silences her with his lips. A thin grey light floods the room, cutting into their shadowy flesh. Molly strokes Dave’s cheek with the back of her hand. He has shaved since they met in the recreation room. He places a palm of meat on her buttock. She shifts slightly and lifts her head towards him. He runs his hands over her body, feeling her breasts heavy and firm in his grip. She reaches down to his jeans and finds his penis bent downwards against the tight force of the denim. She unbuttons him and pulls down his zipper, pushing her hands into his clothes. He comes free in her grip, hard and warm, smooth.
‘It doesn’t matter.’
‘Dave, shut up.’
Molly pulls herself backwards onto the sink unit and opens her legs. Dave yanks his trousers down to his ankles and moves towards her, finding her mouth and tongue as he guides his penis with his hand into her vagina. She is tight, there’s an instant resistance, but he braces his legs and thrusts from his hips. Molly has her arms around his back and is drawing him into her. Their mouths meet completely, heads curved at the perfect angle, eyes shut, all focus on their genitals.
Dave’s mouth gawps, sags momentarily, before it forms into a contortion. Molly tries to sink her tongue deeper into his working face. She crosses her legs over his back and pulls him to her, but Dave is struggling, he’s trying to depart, he’s attempting to leave. Her lips have formed a virtual seal against his mouth, yet his hands are flailing, and he’s pushing her away. She’s insistent but he’s desperate. He tries first forcing her forehead, then grabs her hair. ‘Its no use, like shark’s teeth,’ she says in a high pitched voice, ‘Inverted, easier to get in than get out, they’ll lock, forwards is your best bet.’ He looks at her wide eyed. ‘Do you love me Dave, really, really love me?’
‘Say you love me, say it, say it, say it.’ Dave is beginning to crumple at the knees. His entire body lurches forwards. ‘Say you love me!’ Molly shouts, ‘Say you love me you fucker’. Dave is breathing in short scratching bursts.
‘Molly?!’ She bends her knees quickly and pushes him away, her feet at his armpits. He staggers backwards, screaming. Molly hops down from the work surface and walks the short distance to the light switch.
‘Do you want to see how much you love me, in what way you love me, do you want to know what loving me entails Dave?’ Dave is on his knees, clutching at his futile penis. ‘Here Dave, this is love.’ Molly flicks the switch and her bloodied footprints can be seen, the streams of viscerality run across the floor. Dave, mutated, grasping and grabbing, lies, shrunken and deflated. ‘I love you Dave, I love you enough to let you into my glass vagina.’